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7 lakh students in Kerala have no access to online learning, says Opposition

UDF slams govt. for doing little to narrow the digital divide in education

The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) moved an adjournment motion in the Assembly on Thursday, stating that an estimated seven lakh school students in Kerala risked academic backwardness and felt left behind because they lacked access to online education.

Quoting a recent study by the Left-leaning Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan said an overwhelming number of them hailed from traditionally disadvantaged Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe communities, fisher families and the plantation sector.

Their parents could ill-afford laptops, tablets or mobile phones. The families had scarce access to a reliable internet connection. The government had done nothing to narrow the digital divide. It should immediately remove the hurdles to remote learning, Mr. Satheesan said. Often, students had to wait for parents to return from work to access online classes via their mobile phones.

‘Sense of abandonment’

Hence, many missed live streaming sessions. Sometimes, several children had classes simultaneously, and the house had only a single mobile phone. The sense of abandonment in children was palpable, he said.

Mr. Satheesan said an estimated 40% of school students bunked online classes. Teachers have reported a patent lack of interest in learning among students. The KSFE should extend low-interest loans for parents seeking to buy laptops for their children, he said.

‘Free connectivity on paper’

Congress legislator Roji. M. John, who moved the adjournment motion, detailed the struggles students, parents and teachers faced while migrating to online education during the pandemic. He cited the story of a teacher in Idukki herding her students to a hilltop for better connectivity to access online classes via her mobile phone. He said MLAs and Ministers were beset with pleas for digital learning devices.

The government’s project to provide free broadband internet connectivity to low-income families remained on paper. Many homes had no “ideal space for learning,” he said. The government had promised a mentor teacher each for every 20 students. But the scheme was in limbo, he said.

Minister responds

Minister for General Education V. Sivankutty said 2.69 lakh students required government aid to purchase devices for remote learning. The government has attempted to bridge the gap by broadcasting classes on the KITE-VICTERS channel.

The government has formed committees involving MLAs, MPs, elected local body functionaries, PTA, and school alumni associations to address the dearth of digital learning devices.

Speaker M. B. Rajesh deemed the Minister’s reply satisfactory. He rejected the Opposition’s demand for an adjournment debate on the issue.

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